Saturday, 13 April 2013

The South West Coast Path Section 8 Westward Ho! to Clovelly

Too Cold Surely?
Easter is here again and for the fourth time in the last five years I find myself heading down to the South West as the Coast Path keeps calling me :). This time I have decided to not to make too many plans over which sections to walk, but go where the weather tells me I should go! One place I was quite keen on returning to though was where I had left off on my first attempts to complete the walk back in 2006. Amazingly when I finished the short section from Bideford to Westward Ho! I could have no idea it would take me so long to return!

The weather did look particularly good on the North Devon Coast and so it was there that I headed first. There aren't heaps of buses making the journey from Clovelly to Bideford so I needed to make sure I was in time for the lunchtime bus otherwise any prospect of completing the walk on the first day would be out of the window. I eagerly left home early in the morning and managed to get to Clovelly, just over 200 miles away by just after noon, giving me more time than I had anticipated. Parking is free at the top of the village (unless you are visiting the village that is, when they will relieve you of a small fortune).

Attila The Hut
When the bus finally arrived I was astonished to find out that the fare over to Bideford was a measly £2! I got to Bideford Quay with about 10 minutes between buses; in other words just enough time to obtain a pastie and some drinks for the journey ahead. The connection was nice and easy and I found myself in Westward Ho! at around 2pm, leaving just over five hours of daylight to complete the 11 miles.

Former Westward Ho! Railway
Despite the images of swashbuckling pirates and adventures on the high seas Westward Ho! is a rather charmless and bleak place. It was looking far better than the cold and stormy day that I last visited though. It is of course named after the famous book by Charles Kingsley, the only place in Britain to be named after a novel and the only place that has an exclamation mark in its name. Fundamentally though these are probably the most interest facts about the place,

Task Ahead
It was a beautiful sunny day, albeit with a stiff breeze. Unusually though the breeze was from behind me rather than in my face as it should have been and this rather lessened its effect. I proceeded along the sea from, where a lot of money has been invested in recent years to bring more monied people into the village. I admired the many beach huts and then came upon Seafield House at the end of the cliffs. This wonderful looking old house appears to have been left to rack and ruin, but is allegedly still lived in by an old lady who cannot bear to leave. I do hope that when she finally departs this world someone takes it on and renovates it. For now though it looks like it belongs to a bygone era.

Wave Cut Platform at Greencliff
There is a fairly gentle start to the day's walk as the first mile or so heads along a long forgotten railway line. The Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore line was something of a curiosity. It was unique as a standard gauge line in that it did not connect to the national network. Nor did it last very long - the railway only ran between 1901 and 1917. The fact that anything remains is something of a miracle and yet for the short distance I walked the trackbed I could immediately see what a marvellously scenic ride it must have been.

Walls of Gorse
The railway path came to an abrupt end as the trackbed would once have taken a sharp turn inland. Part of the embankment could still be traced but there was no way of being able to continue along it even if I had wanted to. Instead the path took to the clifftop heading in a south westerly direction. Ahead of me I could now trace the route of the remaining part of the day's walk as I could see my final destination of Clovelly far away in the distance.

Former Limeworks
For the next few miles the path followed a similar pattern. I was flanked for much of the time by gorse bushes, still coming into the final flush of flowering and filling the air with their sickly coconutty blossom smell that I love so much. The cliffs themselves, although not quite as high as some sections I have previously done, still provided a testing challenge on my first day's hiking. As I passed by Green Cliff I had a very large plane cross the beach above me. I imagine this came from nearby RAF Chivenor, just across the water from me.

View From Babbacombe Cliff
What was fairly obvious on this stretch of path was that much work had been done on improving the surface. In one particular spot a fairly lengthy stretch of boardwalk had been constructed to take walkers across a fairly boggy patch. Lovers of zig-zag paths would be in their element on this stretch of the path for it seemed as if just about every gradient was tackled in this way. It made for slow and laborious progress and each time got a glimpse along the coast the ultimate goal of Clovelly never seemed to get any closer.

Bucks Mills
when I reached Peppercombe the nature of the walk changed somewhat. No longer was I following the open clifftops with extensive views but instead I was enclosed in woodland, firstly at Sloo Woods and then Worthygate Woods. I do enjoy woodland walks but these woods were sadly devoid of flowers and due to the cold temperatures we have experienced in the UK as a whole, there was little sign of spring emerging at all. as a result it became a little monotonous after awhile and my thoughts were very much about trying to make sure that I finished the walk before it got dark later!

Barton Wood
At the end of Worthygate Woods I dropped down alarmingly from the top of the wooded slopes down into Bucks Mills, a small hamlet that occupies a valley and rare point where it was possible to unload Lime that was transported here from South Wales. I had more up to date issues to contend with as there seemed to be a full scale game of football going on in the middle of the narrow road.

Clovelly From The Hobby Drive
Rather inevitably my onward route out of Bucks Mills headed straight up and out of the valley once again. I found it a bit of a struggle at first but fortified myself with some drink and chocolate half way up, which did me the world of good! Life in the woods appeared to perk up too. as I edged closer to Clovelly I became aware of the birdsong that was starting the fill the air. Add in the golden light of early evening and my mind was focusing on them rather than my aching feet.

The Hobby Drive
Eventually after what seemed to be ages of winding around the wooded hillsides I came upon The Hobby Drive. This was one of those slightly pointless engineering schemes that wealthy landowners used to indulge in to use some of the cheap labour that was available immediately after wars, in this case the Napoleonic. It was once a toll road and the view of Clovelly at one point was probably worth the toll money. Now it makes for a relatively easy end to the day's walking. My only grumble is that it is covered with loose ballast type stones that make walking a little tough. The engineering of the Drive though is quite remarkable and I certainly appreciated it as I wound around the hillside eventually reaching Clovelly just after 7pm.

Clovelly Glimpse

This was a frustrating section of walk. I was hoping for a slightly easier stretch to warm up on and the scenery wasn't especially memorable as too much was hidden from view by the woods. However there were definitely highlights - the old house of Seafield, the old railway, views from the clifftops and even The Hobby Drive. It certainly whet my appetite for more to come!


  1. Interesting read. Have been to Clovelly, many years ago.

    1. Thanks - plenty more to come. I hope you enjoy reading the rest of my posts from the old country!

  2. An interesting walk I found and I very much enjoyed it. I thought Bucks Mills was rather like a smaller, quieter and undiscovered Clovelly really (no football game then). Also nice to arrive at Clovelly and obviously few visitors realise the coast path brings you into Clovelly without having to pay the "admission charge" they make you pay when you enter from the car park!

    Probably too late for you now but you can take a wonderful day trip over to Lundy from Clovelly to :

    I went on this boat to Lundy a couple of years ago. You do get (very) wet on the boat over (I thought the skipper was exagerating when I phoned through to book, but he certainly wasn't and he kindly ended up lending me waterproof trousers) but if you can time it to go on this boat on a day when the MS Oldenburg is not sailing to Lundy from Ilfracombe or Bideford (as I did) it means you'll have the island virtually to yourself because only a dozen or so go over on this small boat. The island is still "open" then because most of the properties on the island are holiday cottages. This boat only takes a little over an hour too (as compared with two hours from Ilfracombe) and costs the same price. I have some photos of my day there here if you are interested :

    1. Thanks Jon,
      I managed to avoid the 'admission charge' too, by getting off the bus by the church, taking a look around there and then using the path down to the village. It wasn't really intentional but I was thankful anyway as the day I looked around was quite bleak (see forthcoming pictures)

      I have always wanted to go to Lundy and not yet made it. Your way sounds excellent!